Desert groundwater agency mulls how to get water from San Joaquin Valley

December 17, 2022
Rose Horowitch, SJV Water reporting intern
by Rose Horowitch, SJV Water reporting intern
Water purchased by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority from a seller in the Dudley Ridge Water District will have to travel across the San Joaquin Valley and over the Sierra Nevada mountains to reach its destination. SOURCE: Google maps
Rose Horowitch, SJV Water reporting intern
Rose Horowitch, SJV Water reporting intern

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A high-desert groundwater agency in eastern Kern County that’s in the midst of buying water from Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley, recently considered alternatives for how to actually get that water up and over the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority, which covers the Ridgecrest area, got updates on three potential pipeline alignments at its Dec. 14 meeting.

No decisions were made at the meeting but the clock is ticking for the board to use a $7.6 million grant from the state Department of Water Resources toward the pipeline study and alignment adoption.

Early estimates of the cost to build the pipeline are between $182.7 million and $177.1 million, depending on the alignment, according to the update by Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group engineer Jeff Davis.

The company studied three possible alignments for a pipe that would connect to an existing line owned by the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency (AVEK) in California city, and run 50 miles north to the Indian Wells Valley.

The high desert valley is considered critically overdrafted with only 7,600 acre feet of natural water inflow every year, and 28,000 acre feet of annual demand. Some have called it  “the most upside down” basin in the state. The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires critically overdrafted basins be brought into balance by 2040.

In order to stem groundwater pumping, the authority instituted pumping allotments and steep pumping fees. It is using those fees to buy water rights, including 750 acre feet of State Water Project water from Jackson Ranch in the Dudley Ridge Water Storage District in Kings County. 

Cost for that water is $8,500 per acre foot, or  $6,396,000. Authority directors discussed the purchase during their closed session at the Dec. 14 meeting, but did not report taking any action on that item.

In anticipation of receiving that water, the authority has been in discussions with AVEK, a State Water Project contractor, to store the Dudley Ridge water on its behalf.

From there, the authority is hoping to extend the AVEK pipeline from California City on one of three alignments laid out by Davis.

Davis categorized the alignments as east, west and central. He recommended the authority move forward with the central alignment, but emphasized the east alignment was also viable.

“Either one I think is defendable,” Davis said. “Either one is constructible. Either one is permitable.”

The central alignment starts at Redwood Boulevard in California City and runs north toward Redrock Randsburg Road where it turns northeast. It passes beneath Highway 395, then runs parallel to the highway to China Lake Boulevard. It would pass beneath the boulevard to an existing or new water tank. 

The east alignment emerges from 20 Mule Team Parkway and moves east to Highway 395. It passes beneath 395 and runs parallel to the highway to China Lake Boulevard, where it would also pass beneath the boulevard.

“They’re almost equal,” Davis said of the pros and cons of the two alignments. 

The central alignment would disturb only a small section of tortoise habitat and has lower operational costs. But it would run near an earthquake fault, need 10 new miles of power lines and require a permit from State Parks as it skirts Red Rock Canyon State Park, Davis said.

The east alignment would have lower capital costs but higher operational costs as it has to cross two mountain ranges as opposed to one per the central alignment. The east line would also disturb about eight miles of tortoise habitat, Davis said.

He estimated that the central alignment would carry a $182.7 million price tag, while the east alignment would cost $177.1 million.

“Even though we don’t have every single little detail, we have, I think, the guts of what we need to make decisions,” Davis said.

Next steps, he said, are for the authority to move forward with a request for proposals for design services. Then Provost & Pritchard will complete a final report, conduct a drone survey of the preferred alternative, carry out an economic analysis of pipe size and pump stations and determine power availability and right of way information.

Rose Horowitch, SJV Water reporting intern }

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